Philip Lancaster – Two New Poems





Pale sky-bound hand of earth

thrust up from hollowed ground’s soul;

once dark, full-fleshed, exhaling

bright speech through thick wild

word-wood of iron gall;

a now bare sun-blanched

void in rife ripe green:

a blasted tree, kindling

black crow-bloom.


Grazing cows with itching rump and side

tend the bole that ivian claw not grasp

and shroud this relict bone in pall and tug

toward the coffin of its birth.


In midst of summer hays and hope

the hand unstrangled stirs

shattered branch with splinted stiffness.

Only raw crow-cry comes;

age-cracked croak of antique song

long unravelled

past remembering.


It is better to be dumb.

The hand moves not; seeks not;

heeds not hell’s bloom;

drowns song in silence.






Shadows of promise ford the sky.

I cast a casual eye for first signs;

first sighs feathering

grey from far cloud edge;

sky-sedge; streaked herald . . .


Nothing. Yet nothing

is certain.


The nimbal vault lowers,

a gradual gloaming

curtaining the day,

enwreathing heights

in long cloud-song

where soft sfumato smirr


screes the slopes, steeps

through thatch to wash

unseen the hill’s bare side

in rills that hidden run to

galleries green-enmossed

at the path edge, and drip,

heard, half-seen

dropping green

icicles elastic

in streamlet clean . . .


— But here, there is nothing. Still.

All is still. No smudge of air

to raise a hope is there.

Where does the elusive

first drop strike?

How straight its path from birth,



In midst of hope and thought

there dawns the realisation:

It has begun.

The precious first mote

has dark-speckled the path;

a half-sensed touch wakening joy,

expectation of song

in counterpointing

myriad tympanum —

leaves, blades, glass, clay, earth —

all new-voiced from silence.


The first staccatos of Autumn’s crisp litter

soften with saturation to sodden plash, warm

rich reds, golds asound, relished as they drown

memory of Summer’s fitful sobriety,

when cravings too-rare unleashed did break

exultant in thirsted gluts, full-dropped,

longed for by sky and earth (and I)

who rejoiced in too-brief torrent of exuberance.


Thus the seasons’ symphony plays out

in joyous perpetuity; in opulent annuity.

Autumn will turn through scherzodic squalls

to austere beauty of stark Winter’s melody,

bare on earth, on dormant sinews spare;

before Spring’s leaves unfurl afresh

to usher rivulets of song that soft fall to earth

or plunge from a pool’s bank to glad clarion.


But most I long for the cherished blanket

of day-long song, when rain

surrounds with a nest of sound,

unchanging, yet never the same.

These are days for memory;

days to walk within that womb-like

scape of song that shifts

with every step, each turn of head;

days to seek a rich, broad-leafed

high house of song, where

from thick canopy’s fringe

the leaves lense arhythmic pointillisms —

echoes of sky-song beyond its edge . . .


Lost in song, I do not notice

that it has ended. Silence,

refreshed, is more beautiful.



Philip Lancaster is a singer and musicologist with an interest in the study and singing of art-song, and the work of composer and poet Ivor Gurney.  He has just published his first short collection of poems, ‘Fulcrum’, issued in a limited, fine press edition (details can be found at his website: and is already at work on his next.  He is also working under the auspices of a scholarship from the Finzi Trust to compose a chamber oratorio, ‘The Passion of War’.  From September 2014 Philip has been appointed British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, working with Tim Kendall to edit the complete literary works of Ivor Gurney for the Oxford University Press, writing a monograph on Gurney’s work, and completing an important cantata left unfinished by Gurney. He lives in the shadow of Lichfield Cathedral, enjoying the delights of parenthood, tea, cake and rain.



1 Comment

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Simon Smithreply
July 13, 2014 at 4:55 pm

I particularly enjoyed reading Relic of Hope. Those almost Nordic hyphenated kennings and the progressive tense give the poem a harsh urgency I like very much. Those progressive verbs also provide a lovely, subtle link between past and present.

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.